Why it’s better to be the fun cousin.

It’s a fine feeling to swing a child upside down and listen to their innocent squeal as you deftly bring them back up to eye height. It also brings a sweet contraction of the heart to hold a little girl’s hand in the surf and lift her over the white wash. These sorts of child-centric activities can also lend a person an unreasonable sense of their own strength, hence increasing the appeal of children. They make you smile with their easy giggles and you begin to feel rather cool, almost God-like with their appreciation of your attention. Plus, in my case, meagre muscles are transformed into a female version of Arnie’s 1990s body. What is not to love about these little kiddies?

Well, interestingly it is getting to the stage in my life where age and a steady boyfriend mean people feel increasingly welcome to publicly speculate and almost encourage procreation. And scarily enough I am not as opposed to the idea as I was a year ago. But I would still rather volunteer for a year of wash ups rather than deliberately fall pregnant.
At the moment we are camping in an idyllic spot by the beach with a raft of cousins, uncles, aunts, family friends and about a million other children on bikes, scooters and other space-age children’s mobiles. It’s a fascinating environment.
For Ben and I, the day begins with a sleep-in or a leisurely walk to the beach. Then we’ll pack the boat up at tortoise speed and head out onto the river for a few hours fishing. We’ll play cards later, or have an arvo nap. Perhaps read a book. The decadence is palpable.
In between these lazy activities I’ll duck over to my cousins place and stir up the kids. It’s astounding to observe the world through a child’s eyes.
Yesterday I had a competition with my cousin’s curly-haired delight. I said she was as silly as a rainbow. She cleverly replied that I was as silly as a tomato.
I thought she won that round, but determined not to be outwitted by a six-year-old, I replied that she was sillier than a pod of dolphins spinning around and around in the ocean until they were so dizzy they couldn’t swim straight.
“That actually happened,” she replied, with a grave look between her curls. I had no reply for that gem of creativity so she continued. “You’re sillier than a group of frogs jumping up to the moon and back down again.”
I took that as a compliment.
But alongside the frivolity there is the darker side of parenting that is on display at all campsites at some stage. There are the children that scream blue murder when their well-meaning parents offer to take them off for a shower. Or those other cheeky devils that insist they want the toy that their sibling is playing with. At the beach the shore is lined with beady-eyed parents watching their progeny frolic in the waves, ensuring they stay between those flags. Meanwhile, I’m out the back catching waves with the sort of skill that people stop to watch, awestruck, wondering how someone can simultaneously be so confident and so uncoordinated.
As the fun cousin, I can build a quick sandcastle, jump a few waves, swing the child around like it’s an airplane and then leave the camp when the youngster is warming up to the mother of all tantrums. That’s exactly where I want to be.
There is still a fair way to go before I will trade my narcissistic lifestyle for something more nurturing and wholesome. But in the meantime I’ll stir up my delightful cousins and harbour  a generous respect for their fearless parents.
 

Wrecking other people’s Christmas gifts.

In the days after Christmas there will always be the inevitable smashing, crashing and losing of the presents that were supposed to be cherished and last until at least the new year.

It is disappointing when it is your own remote-controlled helicopter that has flown into power lines, at the request of your own poorly-controlled thumbs. But, I am realising, it is a decidedly different affair when you send somebody else’s gift to an early grave.
This issue came to light today when my boyfriend’s Nerf gun came into my possession. I had thoughtfully gifted this weapon of mass stinging and Christmas upheaval because it spices up the ham and salad affair. Water pistols are another favourite present, especially for a sweltering day when only a good water spirt will cool my mother down.
The first issue with the blessed Nerf gun came shortly before the crumpled wrapping paper ended up in a large grey bag. There were no batteries included and who had four spare C batteries lying around – no one. So we were spared the lively sting of the new dart pistol on the day of Christ’s birth. 
On Boxing day my dad found a set of Cs in the car and the war was on.
Once the battery debacle was solved we were all free to turn ourselves into walking targets. All was going to plan. But then of course we headed down to the fishing hole and the Nerf gun barely left the car, such was the enthusiasm for wetting a line, and for the contents of the esky. 
The gun had not been broken in, until today. Back at the ranch I received a few choice darts to the face until I pulled the old I-bought-it-so-don’t-hurt-me-with-it line. The sucker put the gun down and I picked it up, snuck around with the stealth skills of an arthritic dog and shot Ben square in the knees. I continued aiming for his head and hit his elbow, foot, stomach and the other 12 darts hit the couch. By this stage I was more pleased with my gift than a priest is with a lengthy sermon and prepared to sneak up again. This is when the latest drama unfolded – I’d lost half of the bloody bullets. They’re not under the couch or lolling about on the floor. And guess who’s in trouble now. Yep, I got the old you-gave-me-the-present-and-then-lost-it line.
Now it feels like Christmas.

Drive me crazy.

If somebody asked me about the benefits of long car trips, I would ask whether the positive gains would extend beyond reaching a destination. Last night Potter and I survived another 10-hour car trip, tempers still intact. It’s not always the case.

We live eight hours from the closest family members in a place where air fares are still at 1980s prices. So long drives are as avoidable as getting sunbburnt at the cricket. 

Yesterday’s mission began without promise. Potter lounged away with just his hangover for company, insisting he wanted to leave the next day. Compromise was not a word in my dictionary as I stormed around cleaning, packing and insisting we were going to leave imminently. 

The fun truly began once we hit the long stretches of red dirt, with just a few stray emus and some bad music to keep us company. Boots sat in the back opening his mouth wide enough to impress a dentist as he drank in the freedom of being on the road and the promise of cooler eastern temperatures. In the cab, Potter and I found ample ways to amuse ourselves. Our favourite game is a rather complicated affair called Goat. In this stimulating game the passenger and driver compete to be the first to spot a goat. They express this by yelling Goat at a reasonable volume. Bloody exciting, that game.

Often I will read to Ben while he is driving. Now, isn’t that sweet. 

On a trip to the Windorah Yabbie Races earlier this year we had an extra passenger, let’s call her Smella, and she introduced us to a game that required cognitive effort. It begins with the sentence ‘daddy’s gunna buy you a diamond ring’, then the first player must make up an ending to the sentence. For example, ‘and if that diamond  ring don’t shine, daddy’s gunna buy you a ball of twine.’ That continues on and one. It’s highly entertaining. We gave it a shot yesterday but it was interrupted by a badly-timed fart that was much funnier than the real  game. The confined space reglations were consultated about the legalities of flatulence on long trips. For the record, the rules state that if all passengers are participating then no retribution can be dished out.

And to think that this is the fun side of the car ride.

Things really head downhill when the mumbles begin. No one in the car can be bothered with enunciation so the car is filled with an increasing din of ‘pardon’, ‘huh’, ‘what’, ‘what did you say’ and then finally ‘speak f******* properly’. Usually we’ll sit in silence for about 10kms before the perpetrator of such impatience feels bad enough to sneak a hand onto the other’s knee. Instantly the spat is forgotten. There is no place for grudges with at least four hours to go.

Then there is the passenger ettiquitte, which includes advising the driver on speed limits and rogue wildlife. Last night I learned that yelling the new speed limit and smacking the upper arm is as well received as food poisoning at Christmas.

But let’s not forget the good points. One of the most glorious things about these trips is the sense of teamwork. With just 40km to go, when the moon is sitting far above the horizon and the driver’s yawns are more frequent than the roos jumping in front of the vehicle, that’s when you realise that you’re in it together and the company you had was a million times better than doing it alone. The mumbling probably wasn’t too bad.

And then the next morning, when you wake up 10 hours east of home with family to make you breakfast, it was all worth it.